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Heartbreak Health Care

By the time Ralph arrived at my health care clinic, his prostate cancer had metastasized to the point where the only “treatment” was to place him into hospice. The 58-year-old construction worker didn’t have health insurance, so he avoided regular check-ups.As a result, his cancer went undetected and now all he can do is pray.

As a Methodist minister and physician, I have witnessed heartbreak in our medical system for the last 20 years.The stories of the uninsured or the underinsured have not changed. If anything, they have only gotten worse.It is heartbreak health care all over our country. And, in some of the poorest cities like Memphis, Tenn. where I live, everyone from the top city officials to small-business owners to corporate executives knows stories like Ralph’s. We see their faces every day. So why is this situation so difficult to address?

To me, health care cuts to the most fundamental issues of our lives – literally whether we live or die and who we include and exclude. These issues are never easy for us to address.

The current discussion surrounding health care reform highlights our most neurotic, selfish tendencies. As Congress debates health care, individuals still wonder about their own access, their own co-pays, and ultimately their own well-being. Lobbyists are debating how much of a financial hit the hospitals, doctors, and drug companies can take. This sounds absurd to the millions without health insurance.

My faith tells me to care for the least of these. In today’s world, I see more than 46 million people without health care coverage, and it breaks my heart. We cannot sit idly by as millions lack basic care. We are destroying lives through over-priced emergency room visits and unfair billing practices. We need to stop the financial bullying of the uninsured and provide access to basic health care for everyone in the United States. This step would immediately create a healthier system and population.

Yet access alone will not address the deeper dysfunctions of the system head-on. We need to change our view of health care. It is not about technology, pills, or money. It is about people. It is about making sure that people stay healthy. We need to reform the reimbursement system to concentrate less on technology and more on actual outcomes. If we are not making people healthier, then we should not receive generous compensation. More testing and more pills are not the answer to good health outcomes. Active living and good diet are crucial. Right now, the health care system is more invested in using the newest technology and prescribing more pills than in addressing the root causes of diseases and conditions. This cycle needs to end.

Such change will be difficult and messy. It is the just course of action, and this road is never easy. I hope that the current reforms will create a new system that cares more about people. Such a system would treat Ralph’s condition early on, emphasizing preventative measures on all counts. It would provide access first and foremost. It would shift the focus to making people healthier in the long run. It would give us healthier people to work in our offices, factories, and restaurants. It would end heartbreak health care in our country once and for all.

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Rev. G. Scott Morris, MD, is founder and CEO of the Church Health Center in Memphis, Tennessee. This is the largest faith-based, not-for-profit primary health clinic in the United States, providing health services to over thirty-thousand patients who are working but uninsured. Dr. Morris is a physician and a United Methodist pastor.

Nov. 2008: John Wesley's Example

Dec. 2008: Healing Touch

Jan. 2009: Keeping Sabbath

Feb. 2009: Commercial Diagnosis

March 2009: Unthinkable Words

April 2009: Financial Anxiety

May 2009: Martyrs of Memphis

June/July 2009: H1N1 FAQ

Aug. 2009: Recommended Reading

Sept 2009: Letter to a Future Doctor

Oct 2009: Make Your Christmas Healthy!

Nov/Dec 2009: Fine and Blessed

Jan. 2010: Heartbreak Healthcare

Feb. 2010: Keep Out!

March 2010: Our Fast-Food Addiction

April 2010: How to Visit Someone in the Hospital

May 2010: A Matter of Healing Both Body and Spirit

June/July 2010: Medicine as Ministry

Aug. 2010: The Body of Christ

Sept. 2010: God Works in the Body-and-Spirit

Dec. 2010: Aliyah

Jan. 2011: Better Relationship or Better Resolution?

March 2011: Ruins

July 2011: Micah's Triple Aim

June 2012: Cultural Messages

July 2012: Water--A Weapon of Kindness

November 2012: Feasting on More than Food

December 2012: Worship and Discover

January 2013: Dreams of Justice

February 2013: Life Flows from the Heart

March 2013: Why Lent is the Right Time to Ponder Life

April 2013: Look What Love Can Do

May 2013: In Season and Out

June 2013: The Light of Summer

July 2013: How to Change the World

August 2013: Changing Faith Changes Health

October 2013: What Does “Health Literacy” Really Mean?”

LifeLines: Taking Care of Business

January 2014: Power in the Blood

February 2014: Start with God's Love

April/ May 2014: He Knows My Name